The game looks really nice so far, but "so far" is the operative phrase there -- the game is far from done. There are only six fighters in the game we played: Flash, Superman and Batman represent the comic book side, while Scorpion, Sub-zero, and Sonya are in from the MK series. Catwoman, Sheng Tsung, Captain Marvel, and Liu Kang have been announced as well, but Lebaron told us that Midway probably won't have your favorite character Zatanna in the game -- he says they're sticking pretty mainstream with their character choices for now. And unfortunately, they don't have full access to the DC Universe. "We can't do Bizarro as an alternate costume to Superman," he said as an example, "there are licensing things to deal with." But the benefit there is that by sticking to the mainstream DC superheroes, they can make sure to get all the standard moves in there, and a few more.
Case in point: Batman has a few different batarang actions -- he can either just wing one at his opponent, or actually toss it upwards off the screen, at which point it hits Subzero in the back, and pulls him in closer to Bats to start up a combo. And Mortal Kombat veterans will even find some familiar moves mixed in with the superheroes' new arsenal -- Batman has a smoke pellet teleport that's old school for MK (fall off the bottom of the screen, fall back from the top on the opponent's other side), while Flash can do the Scorpion teleport -- jump off the back of the screen, and dash around to the other side. The move sets we saw weren't anywhere near finished, but we did see an interesting mix of MK with DC.
And Midway has really innovated in a few places, most notably during throws and stage transitions (where you knock someone off one part of the stage and into another). In the past, these two experiences have been pretty passive for whoever's getting thrown or knocked away, but Midway has put in a fun counter system to break things up. Whenever you throw someone, the screen zooms in a bit and slows down, and down in the corners, you can actually see what your opponent is pressing to attack. This makes it much easier for the opposing player to counter in the middle of the action, if they know what each button counters and how to time it exactly right.
Stage transitions have the same element, with an added bonus: there's a "super meter" that builds up while fighting, and when a counter is done, your opponent can actually steal your super meter power. So there's a balance between fighting to build the super meter, and using that power before your opponent is able to counter the attack and steal the momentum. Both of those innovations definitely make what was previously a cutscene into something much more interesting.
They're also squeezing combos into the regular gameplay, as another fighting game
has done -- the game will feature moves that can be "upgraded" with really tough timed button presses, i.e. hitting X in the middle of a combo at exactly the right time. Lebaron says that "even perfect players won't be able to hit it all the time."
And the other challenge Midway is facing is walking the line between treating DC superheroes like superheroes, and being as brutal as Mortal Kombat is known to be. The most well-known collision so far is the Fatalities -- as most Batman fans know, he's not much for the killing, so while seeing him stripping the spine out of someone might be cool, it's not exactly in character for the guy. Lebaron confirmed what we've heard before: that certain superheroes will perform "Brutalities"
("They might not end up being called that," says Lebaron), and severely maim opponents instead of outright killing them.
For their part, Lebaron did say that Midway is trying to push the line as much as possible, both with DC and with the ESRB (the game is set to be rated T): he showed us a Scorpion fatality against the Flash where Bart Allen (at least we saw him as Bart Allen -- when we asked Lebaron which Flash he was, Midway said they weren't choosing a certain one) fell to the ground, his costume and skin charred and burned. Lebaron said that death animation was already approved by DC, and that in the future, if DC or the ESRB has a problem with something they come up with, they'll take it back out and try it again, rather than just removing animations from the game. Villians will have fatalities for sure -- Lebaron confirmed that Catwoman, among other villains, will be killing their opponents.
The version we played was very early, but Lebaron told us that right before E3, the game went into quality assurance mode, so progress is being made (he did say that they're still tweaking the moves -- we overheard Lebaron say to someone else that the Xbox 360's D-pad was giving them problems). Online modes are "what you'd expect in a fighting game," so Superman will be able to beat up Johnny Cage from anywhere in the world. We also asked about DLC, and Lebaron said Midway would like to do it -- "add characters into the game that we didn't add for five bucks or something like that," but that they didn't have any plans yet.
All in all, MK vs. DC
is shaping up pretty well -- it's headed for a release later this year, and fans of both Mortal Kombat and DC will probably find some good fun in it.